I’ve been thinking about empathy a lot lately in the realm of sales and a host of other real-world opportunities. Empathy via the Oxford dictionary is defined, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Is it any surprise, then,

I’ve been thinking about empathy a lot lately in the realm of sales and a host of other real-world opportunities. Empathy via the Oxford dictionary is defined, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Is it any surprise, then, to hear Founder and CEO of Spanx Sara Blakely recently share with University of Southern California students the importance of understanding a prospect’s personality when selling? She told students to understand buyers’ motivations as one of four personality types. For Sara, who really bootstrapped her way to building a renowned billion-dollar company, it’s about knowing the customer.

And as we think our interactions with people everyday, empathy helps us connect to one another. It helps us be more open while also not seemingly attacking (or defending) one another. Empathy is what gives us the ability to share our thoughts and opinions in a way that would be well-received, while being true to ourselves. I say, “share our thoughts” not just “hear” because, let’s face it, oftentimes, we’re trying to sell our perspectives. That matters a lot to us. So, okay, let’s start with we want to get our thoughts across. We want to sell our software to this buyer. Got it.

Empathy, then, helps us communicate with our buyers. This way, our message resonates. It does not fall on deaf or defensive ears.

Great. You got it? Empathy is key. But how? How do we be empathetic with our customers, prospects? Loaded question. Why would you ask it that way? Just kidding. Kind of.

Being empathetic requires three key tenets right off the bat.

  1. You have be open to be wrong. In another way of saying this, you have to be open to learning. Knowing your ideas or your product can be wrong is a great way to start the conversation as to why. It helps us understand if our product is wrong, our message is wrong, the opportunity is wrong. Sometimes, it’s actually not even wrong. Instead, it’s knowing things can be different. This helps us learn what are the other opportunities? How can we improve? This is really more of a foundational tenet than a particular “action” that should be done during any interaction. It’s not “done” as much as “it’s there”.
  2. You have to listen. The first step allows us to realize that maybe we’ve got the wrong approach. From there, we have that ability to ask questions and learn, but it doesn’t happen if we don’t listen. Of course, by “listen” this can come in many forms such as watching or experiencing first-hand. What this does NOT include talking to share more of our position and interests, or not witnessing how goals are accomplished today. It means taking a step back and being an observer.
  3. Apply what you’ve learned. This is where all the learning and observing really comes together. This is where we can react to our buyer. We are understanding what we’ve learned and observed. We can relate to how this all applies to what we wanted to share in the first place–you gotta sell to put food on the table, right? If the prior tenets are the hardest, this is the most fun and creative.

Selling is persuading. And to persuade, isn’t it important to know what’s important to the other person? Not important? Isn’t it important to know how they might view what you’re selling? Why do you think it’s easier or harder for a potential buyer to agree with you if they got a chance to tell you what’s keeping them up at night? Customer empathy is the key.

Empathy then snowballs into being more authentic to one another. Then, we get into new worlds where we care about the success of one another, not just the success of me. Empathy allows us to then realize this may not be the right opportunity for us to work together. And you know what? That’s okay. We can move on. That… is fantastic.

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